Opinion piece by Nick Martin – Hotel School graduate, serial hotel manager and hospitality educator. He is currently Director of the Swiss Hotel School, SA in Ferndale, Johannesburg

What type of people are we attracting to the industry and what sort of future will we offer them?

I always feel the industry – dynamic, exciting, even glamourous merits the attention of high achieving school leavers. Sadly this is not so – not in any great numbers anyway.

As one of those rare beasts who went to hotel school and was still in the industry 30 years later, I have a few ideas as to what puts the talented youngsters off.

Here are a few of my observations :-

  • Service vs servitude –When did being of service become so downmarket? I always took great pride in a job well done and huge satisfaction from the happy guest. The “service industry” worldwide is the job provider of the future.
  • Businesses not prepared to pay – I know that there are a growing number of marginal businesses out there who are struggling to keep the doors open but honestly are these practices right?:
  • Restaurants who do not pay waiters– tips only
  • Businesses who pack their kitchens with apprentices and trainees because they are free or come with government grants and then when you ask them to fill in a trainee feedback report they are too busy.
  • The 5 star game lodge who contracts most of its business in US Dollars and pays an experienced career student R22 per day.

Where is it written that as a trainee is keen to learn you don’t have to pay them minimum wage?

  • Hours of work – is Tsogo Sun the only company that has embraced the 5 day week? It is ok as an ambitious young manager to throw in extra hours when needed to get the job done, but when it is expected of you every week? Why is it, in catering especially, that it becomes a crime to have a life outside work – where is the quid pro quo for the long hours when it comes to holidays and a bit of extra money in the pocket?
  • Hotel schools that insist on a 4 weeks here/ 4 weeks there approach to long internships – does this requirement not play directly into the hands of employers who cite lack of productivity as the reason for low pay? Is it not the School’s responsibility to ensure that their students have basic operational skills in place before the 6 months in industry? Would the students not enjoy the experience more if they could spend longer in the departments which interest them?
  • Degrees – undoubtedly the single currency of educational achievement. Everyone respects a degree. Every Mum and Dad who forks out big money for their child’s high school education looks for a degree as part of their return on investment. Where are the Post Graduate Diplomas and Hospitality MBAs? Why are the government hotel schools so slow in reflecting this reality?
  • Lack of trainee management programmes for graduates – in days gone by all the big hotel groups and many of the significant independents had programmes to capture and nurture talent. 18 months to assess, train and inculcate with company loyalty a small group with the potential for senior management. It does not matter the nature of the work in those 18 months, it is the recognition that is important. An entry-level position with a non-committal “we’ll see” attitude to future development is not the same thing.
  • Old style management – we get so fed up with the managers who can’t wait to regale our students with the “war stories” from their own careers – peeling potatoes, plucking pheasants and 80 hour weeks. Is the ability to withstand pain the only attribute the industry values?

With our currency the way it is, many of the students that exit our tertiary educational system look for the opportunity to go overseas. The chance to save R12,000 a month (it’s only $800) is hard to resist. Of course the hope is that once they have travelled they will return and enrich our hospitality gene pool. Sadly this is not always the case.

In many countries the industry rides on the back of the most recent wave of immigrants and to some extent we are the same in South Africa but if we are not attracting the brightest and the best from our own population what are our prospects?

Although guilty of proposing more questions than answers perhaps a robust debate will produce workable ideas that we can follow up and action…. Let me know what you think.

Nick Martin can be reached at nsm@swisshotelschool.co.za

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